Becky is someone who shops a lot; the irony is that while she works at a financial magazine that advises saving, she's writing letters to credit card companies, desperately trying to explain why she hasn't paid off a certain bill. The great thing about Becky Bloomwood is that the character taps into the collective consumer consciousness. She's like all of us: She's just this optimistic girl who loves to shop, and not always for herself. Sometimes she'll buy something because the shop assistant has a lazy eye and she feels sorry for her and doesn't want to hurt her feelings.
I like these books primarily because they're funny. A lot of books like this—or Bridget Jones's Diary—are lumped in with chick lit, a phrase I hate. It's unfair—they're more like wit lit. The books I've picked for this list are all great reads—and as much as I like being entertained, I like to be challenged. So I've chosen ones that can also make you question your approach to life.
By George Orwell
I read this book when I was 16; it was one of the most terrifying books I'd ever read, and it's stayed in my mind ever since. Orwell presents an imaginary future where a totalitarian state controls everything. The story is told by Winston, a man living in London under a dictator called Big Brother. Winston is a loyal party member who begins breaking the law: He falls in love, smokes, commits "thoughtcrime" by writing in his diary. It's frightening—the control that Big Brother has over everyone, the social dangers of political authority. It makes me think of surveillance cameras, particularly in London. We don't live in a totalitarian state, obviously, but it's scary to realize how easily a government can tip toward that.
By Naomi Wolf
This is such an important book. Wolf's idea is that women—mainly middle-class Western women—are oppressed and controlled by the imposition of beauty requirements in every aspect of our lives: the media, religion, the office. Women spend so much time plucking and grooming, trimming and styling to live up to this two-dimensional plastic ideal of beauty. All that time, Wolf argues, could go into something else. My mum gave this book to me when I was 21; I started thinking about it again recently because I have a daughter; you suddenly panic about the possibility of your child being subjected to a barrage of images promoting an ideal that doesn't exist in real life.
By William Golding
This is a great story about a group of boys marooned on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a war. They descend into madness and end up killing two of their companions, Piggy and Simon. I reread this book recently and found it interesting that Golding seems to imply that savagery is more primal and fundamental to the human psyche than civilization. That idea is fascinating—and so are the questions it raises: If people were left to their own devices, would savagery ensue or would people live by the rules and be nice? Which is the most powerful impulse within us?
By Ina May Gaskin
Women are happy to tell you their terrifying birth stories, but nobody tells you the positive ones. So if you're going to have a baby, you have to read this—it's a collection of stories of women's birth experiences, plus loads of practical information. In today's world of modern medicine, it's so easy to have the experience of pregnancy and birth taken out of your hands: You're measured and blood-tested and ultrasounded. Sometimes it feels as if the whole experience is happening to you. But women have the right to have the birthing experience we desire—whether it's a Caesarean or a natural birth—and to have the fear of the pain removed. A friend, Naomi Watts, gave me this book when I was pregnant. It was such a special time for me, and it was such a relief to read these stories.
By Sacha Baron Cohen
First of all, I'm recommending this book because I know the author—he's my baby daddy. It's written by my favorite of Sacha's characters, Ali G, who's an arrogant ignoramus, a badly schooled, pot-smoking sexist who lives with his grandma. He's also a white middle-class kid from a provincial town who wants to be a gangster rapper from South Central Los Angeles. He does his own Ten Commandments—one of them is "Do not diss Tupac." It's a really funny book.